Friday, July 5, 2019

Are Democrats too liberal for their own good?




This is the question put forward by the media daily.  We hear not just from moderate Republican pundits like David Brooks, who claims to be seriously courting a Democratic candidate for President this time around, but also from mainstream news pundits as well.

A half dozen or more of the Democrats at the debate professed themselves to be moderate voices, but the only one among them to have gained any traction to this point is Joe Biden, who had been polling around 30 per cent before the debates.  John Hickenlooper, Amy Klobuchar, Tim Ryan, and others all made their cases, but have yet to make a dent in the polls.

On the surface, it appears that Bernie Sanders has done more to energize the party than his more conservative counterparts in the Senate, with the notable exception of Liz Warren.  Democrats want to see a more progressive candidate at the top of the ticket, but not sure which one.  By calling out Joe Biden on federal mandated busing at the debates, Kamala Harris has vaulted herself into consideration along with Bernie and Liz.  Mayor Pete remains a distant fourth among progressives.

Brooks makes some good arguments, particularly on health care.  Bernie, Liz and now Kamala are all pitching Medicare for All, yet the majority of working Americans have some kind of insurance through their employers and for the most part are satisfied with it.  Medicare for All would completely uproot the current system and have everyone using the federal government as its health care provider.  This may play well among a small demographic of Americans, but not the country as a whole.  This is why we have the Affordable Care Act to provide health insurance to those who fall through the cracks, roughly 10 per cent of the population.

Brooks arguments are not so good on the economy and immigration.  Democrats are right to sound the alarm on the economy because we are currently heading in the same direction we did back in 2004, which ultimately ended in the worst economic collapse since the Depression.  Supply-side economics doesn't work.  All these tax cuts and deregulation of the banking industry result in short term gains for large companies and investors, but are non-sustainable.  We have gone down this road with each and every Republican president since Eisenhower with the exact same results.  A Democrat then comes into office to clean up the mess left behind by re-imposing fair taxes and regulations, only to be vilified for ruining the so-called free market.

Even wealthy financiers and industrialists like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have said the tax rate is unsustainable and that it needs to be raised to meet the government revenue shortfall.  The national debt has mushroomed more than $2 trillion since Trump took office, and this during a time of economic prosperity.

As for immigration, no Democratic candidate is calling for open borders, as Brooks implies in his op-ed piece.  What Democrats are calling for is a path toward citizenship for illegal immigrants who have families in the United States so as not to break these families apart.  What they want is a more humane immigration policy that has been put forward by Republicans and Democrats alike, most recently in 2013, with John Boehner scuttling the Senate bill in the House and turning it into a 2014 mid-term election issue that holds forth to this day.  There is nothing radical about what the Democratic candidates are proposing on immigration.  What is radical is the degree to which the Trump administration has perverted existing immigration policies to justify his zero tolerance approach to illegal immigration.

I agree that the Democratic candidates need to be careful in not pushing highly contentious issues so that they alienate moderate voters who are very much looking for an alternative to Trump.  So far I don't see that, at least not on these three key issues.  Where the more progressive candidates are putting themselves on thin ice is reparations for slavery.  This is an issue that has been floated any number of times, and dropped each and every time because we are talking about something that happened five generations ago.  It's not like reparations for Japanese-American internment during WWII, where you still had living survivors when President Reagan signed a reparations bill in 1988 that offered some degree of compensation.  How do you determine who today was affected by slavery more than 150 years ago?  This reparations issue could very definitely come back to bite the Democratic nominee in the general election if the candidates continue to pursue it.

It would be more wise to strengthen and enforce the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, increasing educational and economic opportunities for everyone.  This was largely seen at the time as the best means to deal with the continued repression of the Black community until the passage of the Equal Rights Act in 1964.  Access is the real issue here, not reparations.

What is abundantly clear in the first two debates is that there are too many candidates.  Most of them seem to be seeking national exposure, maybe to eventually mount campaigns against Republican senate seats?  John Hickenlooper, a self-professed moderate and former governor of Colorado, should be gunning for Cory Gardner's seat in the Senate.  The same for Steve Bullock in Montana, where the current Republican Senate seat is up for re-election.  For that matter, the more liberal Beto O'Rourke would be wise to seek John Cornyn's Senate seat in Texas, as he has failed to gain any traction in the polls.  However, we are most likely stuck with this crowded field until the first caucus in Iowa, after which the field will winnow quickly.

As for David Brooks and other Never Trumpers, it is doubtful they will be fully satisfied with any Democratic candidate, and most likely hold out hope for a conservative independent candidate to emerge in the general election.  Maybe Daddy Starbucks will get over his back problems and run as an independent, appealing to conservatives like Brooks?

The Democratic candidates don't need to cater to these dissonant voices.  They need to do what they can to mobilize the base of their party.  That means not being afraid to stake out progressive positions on health, education and the economy, as this will be what fires up the younger generation, which outnumber the geriatrics who voted for Trump in 2016.

We also don't need moderates like Amy Klobuchar throwing a wet towel on student loan debt forgiveness, as the enormous personal debt burden most Americans face is very real and in many cases stifles their economic opportunities.  This is an issue that has a direct impact on Millennials and their parents, who often try to cover the loans for their children until they get their feet on the ground.

Democrats also need to face up to global warming, an issue that got very minimal attention in the debates.  By coming up with a comprehensive plan to deal with climate change the potential for creating new jobs is great.  So far the only candidate to seriously address the issue is Liz Warren.  The others have simply offered palliatives.

A bold vision with a practical means of achieving big goals, both in the short term and long term, is what will ultimately carry a Democratic candidate to the White House.  Americans are looking for a change, not just from Trump but the economic status quo that seems to only benefit the rich, while leaving the middle and lower classes to scramble for whatever scraps are left behind.

Most Americans can no longer afford higher education, basic health care and have little or no money in pension accounts.  Nearly 80 per cent of Americans say they are living from pay check to pay check, which was made painfully visible during the government shutdown at the beginning of the year. 

If we learned anything from the 2018 midterms it is that Americans are hungry for change with Democratic candidates outpolling Republican candidates by staggering margins, and doing better than anyone expected in so-called red states.  For the first time in American history, a state legislature is dominated by women.

So far, the two strongest Democratic candidates are women.  Liz Warren was the clear winner of the first debate, and Kamala Harris upstaged Joe Biden and all her male counterparts in the second debate.   Perhaps the best alternative to Trump is not another crusty septuagenarian in Joe Biden, but rather a strong, assertive woman who is not afraid to tackle difficult issues.

Maybe this is "too liberal" for moderate and conservative pundits to accept, but right now Liz and Kamala look to me to be the best way forward for the Democratic Party.

2 comments:

  1. You bring up many good points. I wish the old crowd would come back to have a good discussion of these matters.

    As for me, at this point I have not made up my mind about whom to support in the election. Will bide my time and allow things to develop.

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  2. Time will tell, but right now the men don't look very impressive.

    ReplyDelete